Two years ago, the nation was introduced to Viviette Applewhite
, a 93-year-old widow in Pennsylvania who had marched with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Applewhite has voted in nearly every election for the last-half century -- right up until 2012, when the state told this African-American woman she wouldn't be allowed to cast a ballot because Republicans policymakers had created a voter-ID law to combat voter fraud that didn't exist.
After Applewhite's story garnered national attention, election officials helped get her situation straightened out -- and more recently, the law itself was struck down as unconstitutional -- but the incident was a reminder about the real-world impact of unnecessary voter-ID laws.
Two years later, Zachary Roth introduces us to a similar face
-- of the same age -- in the "war on voting."
Willie Mims, 93, showed up to vote at his polling place in Escambia County Tuesday morning for Alabama's primary elections. Mims, who is Africa-American, no longer drives, doesn't have a license, and has no other form of ID. As a result, he was turned away without voting. Mims wasn't even offered the chance to cast a provisional ballot, as the law requires in that situation. Jenny McCarren of Empower Alabama, a progressive group that gave Mims a ride to the polls, recounted the story for msnbc. McCarren said Mims's voter file showed he has voted in every election since 2000, as far back as the records go. How many Alabamans lack ID isn't known -- in part because the state made no effort to find out before the ID law. But nationwide, most studies put the figure at around 11%, and as high as 25% for African Americans.
Up until last year, there's no way Alabama's voter-suppression law would have been cleared by the Justice Department, but because a narrow Supreme Court majority gutted the Voting Rights Act, Alabama's voter-ID law was never subjected to federal scrutiny.
It's against this backdrop that the Alabama Republican Party is "so desperate" to prove imaginary voter fraud exists, GOP officials are offering cash rewards
Tuesday is the first test of Alabama's voter ID law -- and the state's Republicans are desperate to dig up some voter fraud. So desperate, in fact, that they're offering a $1,000 reward to anyone who helps them find any. [...] Bill Armistead, the Alabama GOP chair, wrote on the party's website Monday that Republicans will fork over the cold hard cash to anyone who provides "information that directly leads to a conviction of a felony for voter fraud." Signs saying "Reward -- Stop Voter Fraud," and directing people to call a toll-free hotline, will be placed at polling sites around the state both for Tuesday's primaries and November's general election, Armistead added.
I can appreciate the degree to which party leaders are eager to substantiate their reckless voter-suppression tactics. These laws, the harshest voting restrictions seen in the United States since the Jim Crow era, are impossible to defend if they address a problem that doesn't exist.
But there's no reason to believe the Alabama Republican Party will have to pay up anytime soon -- voter fraud is still a problem that exists solely in the minds of far-right imaginations.
As for 93-year-old Willie Mims being turned away before he could participate in his own democracy, now would be an ideal time for Alabama officials to feel ashamed of themselves.